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Latin America Travel & Tour Information

A wing and a Prayer (Hannah Leadbetter)

Bus drivers are a strange breed. Back in England, Benny used to drive me to primary school with a row of freshly shot pheasants strung up in the front of the vehicle. Worryingly, this belied the fact that somewhere on the transport our parents trusted to take us safely to school there was also a loaded weapon. Add to this Benny's propensity to accelerate virtually at you after dropping you off, and some serious health and safety concerns should have been lodged with the council.   

 

As any traveller knows, their vocation in life necessitates transport, and all too often our fate is put into the hands of those with dubious driving skills, not to mention sanity. The Guatemalan chicken bus is a prime example. As colourful inside as out, these former US school buses now rattle around Guatemala. If still doing the school run, they would need some serious modification in order to stop every American parent filing a lawsuit. Fortunately in Guatemala health and safety legislation, let alone the desire to use it, is non-existent.     

 

Fortunate passengers board the bus at the start of the route. Discomfort for them is minimised to having their noses pressed to the window and their arms pinned to their sides for the next four hours. The third person on a double seat still has the comparative luxury of resting one bum cheek. After this, you take your chances. Fearless locals pile in on top of each other and any effort by travellers to resist a similar fate is met with disdain, and impossibility. Only when the bus has reached double capacity are passengers allowed to cling in a standing position.      

 

Presumably computerised driving games haven't reached the majority of Guatemalan households yet, so boys with a death wish aspire to drive chicken buses. This fearless breed accelerates into corners, overtakes on blind bends, and deems the horn a viable alternative to the brakes. Shouting and gesturing out of the window clearly form the main part of the driving test, whilst the conductor?s job is akin to herding cattle. Be warned: this is not for the faint-hearted.        

 

The term 'chicken bus' refers to the feathered friends who frequently travel on board. Not encountering such an avian companion leaves you with a strange sense of disappointment, whilst sharing your seat with a turkey suggests a higher class of travel. However, if I was a bird with perfectly serviceable wings, I'm not sure I would choose this particular mode of transport.         

 

There are times, as a human, when the wisdom of travelling by chicken bus is questionable too. Slogans such as 'La mano de Dios' and 'Dios es amor' should suggest to even the most godless traveller that they may want to reconsider their beliefs over the course of the journey. The appearance of a preacher on an English bus would send me to the furthest corner of the vehicle. Clearly this is not an option on a chicken bus. So it was that I found the preacher's sermon, albeit in Spanish, strangely comforting as we careered round hairpin, cliff-edge bends and headed directly for oncoming vehicles on the wrong side of the road.         

 

A journey on the chicken bus should be terrifying. Yet it is strangely exhilarating and endlessly fascinating. Where else would you get to so closely and literally rub shoulders with the locals? Why else do we travel? Life's a journey and there are worse ways to travel than by chicken bus. As for the drivers, if Benny were to come out of retirement, there would be a bus waiting in Guatemala.       

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